After drought, disease and heat cause your lawn stress during the summer, it needs a pick-me-up. This is especially true for family backyards, because they see a lot of foot traffic from people and pets. To help your grass recover before winter sets in, do a bit of fall lawn care and apply lawn fertilizer. This will give the grass an extra boost to grow strong roots, making it less susceptible to disease and damage during the winter months.
When to Apply Fall Lawn Fertilizer
Timing your fertilizer application is especially important. You should fertilize before the ground is frozen so that your lawn has time to use the nutrients before winter. However, you should also avoid fertilizing too early. This could cause your lawn to grow more blades, rather than growing roots and storing nutrients to survive the winter and get a jump start in the spring. Apply fertilizer when your grass is still growing, but not so much that you still need to mow.
How to Apply Fall Lawn Fertilizer
A common mistake in lawn care is over-fertilizing, which can be as damaging as not fertilizing enough. Applying too much fertilizer to your lawn is also a major source of water pollution, as excess nutrients become runoff, entering local streams and eventually the Chesapeake Bay.
While lawn needs will vary a bit by grass type, a good fall fertilizer application will include about 1lb of soluble nitrogen (N) per every 1000 square feet. The best lawn fertilizer will also include potassium (K), which is essential for root development and cold hardiness. Avoid fertilizers that are high in phosphorus (P). While your lawn needs some phosphorus, too much will end up in runoff and cause algae blooms. Look for a fertilizer with a ratio of 24-4-12 (N:P:K elements) for a light fall feeding.
To be as precise as possible with your lawn care, consider purchasing a soil test kit. This will give you a more accurate picture of the amount of fertilizer and other amenities your lawn needs to look its best. You can also look at fertilizer packages, which will have instructions about the amount to apply for each grass type.
How Late Is Too Late to Overseed?
Spring may be planting time for your garden, but fall is an excellent time to overseed your lawn. Overseed with cool-season grasses for winter color, or to repair bald patches in cool-season lawns. Fall sown seed has a chance to sprout while the soil is still warm but the weather is cool and moist. However, don’t wait until it’s too late to overseed. You want to ensure that your newly sown seed has time to grow strong roots and get established before winter.
Select cool-season seed and follow up with a light fertilizer application. Winter rye is an excellent choice for fall overseeding in Maryland because it thrives during cool weather when other warm-season grasses are dormant. Use it to patch bald spots and keep your lawn looking full and thick during the winter. You might want to overseed with warm-season grass seed in the spring, when the weather warms up, to patch spots in your summer lawn.
Leaf removal is important to fall lawn care. Letting leaves lie on your lawn over winter can smother grass and promote disease. If you have a small lawn, you might be able to get the job done quickly with a rake and then adding these great nutrients to your compost pile for spring use. If not, consider a leaf blower, a bagger attachment for your lawnmower, or a mulching mower. Mulching mowers shred grass clippings and dead leaves finely and disperse them onto your lawn. This light mulch can actually feed your lawn without smothering it.
If you’re removing your leaves, rather than mulching them, don’t get rid of them! Dead leaves are an excellent source of carbon for your home compost and can be used as a winter mulch. Shred them and then place them over perennial edibles like strawberries and perennial flowers to keep them insulated during the winter. (Wait until the plants die back to cover for protection.) To avoid smothering them, be sure to pull the leaves off of the plants before the plants start to grow in the spring.
How Late Should You Mow in the Fall?
It can be tempting to stop as soon as the weather cools off. However, tall grass can be damaged in the winter, so it’s best to keep mowing as long as the grass keeps growing. For warm-season turf grasses, increase your normal mowing height by half an inch during the fall.
As the weather cools off and kids head back to school, fall lawn care is often forgotten. However, if you want beautiful green grass in the spring, fall is the time to work on your lawn. Doing these essential fall tasks can help you have a greener, healthier lawn all season long.